Home away from home

This is Kofi Kumako’s first semester at USF. But besides being new to the university, he’s also new to the country. Kumako is from Togo, West Africa.

Kumako won’t get to see his family at all until his two years in the MBA program are complete. His only links back home are phones and e-mail.

“At first when I came here, I didn’t know anyone. I felt very lonely,” Kumako said. “I walked around not knowing anyone, and they didn’t speak my language. I felt homesick, very homesick.”

But that changed when Kumako attended an orientation at the beginning of the semester and found out about an organization called Friends of Internationals. The organization helps international students get settled in through activities such as English classes and various social events.

After being in Tampa a week, he attended a meeting for the African Students Association and saw a Ugandan children’s choir performance. Both events were brought to his attention through Friends of Internationals.

“After these social events I felt much better,” Kumako said.

Kumako’s life in Tampa is very different from his life in West Africa. In Togo, he worked in an office job starting at 7 a.m. and would go home at noon to eat lunch and take a nap. He would return to his office at 2:30 and work until 5:30, then return home, where he lived with his family, to talk about the working day. But at USF, where he will have completed six classes by the end of the semester, his days don’t begin as early.

“Here, classes start at 11 and 1,” Kumako said. “I was like, ‘No, they’re supposed to start at 7.'”

But the biggest difference between life in the two countries, Kumako said, is the way he lives now. In Togo, he lived with his family in one house, but here he lives alone as a student.

“The communities are students with the same vision: to achieve something in life,” he said.

Kumako said people at USF usually ask him questions about the language he speaks. In Togo he spoke French and two local languages.

“(Students) are curious to know about my country or culture, because they haven’t heard of my country before,” he said.

Kumako’s biggest challenge is not having anywhere to go to ask questions because everything at USF is online.

“My community (in Togo) is not dependent on (the Internet),” he said.

Besides his friends, family and his life in Togo, Kumako misses his language the most because he rarely gets a chance to speak it now. But he’s proud of what he has learned.

“I try to impress my friends to show them I’m speaking English,” he said.

And now, Kumako said, he dreams in both languages.

The academic program Kumako is enrolled in is time-consuming, but during the little time he is not in class, doing homework or meeting with groups for projects, he goes to the gym or the soccer field. He takes an English composition class that is not part of his academic program. He goes to church, spends time with his mentor and spends time with a friend he met through Friends of Internationals.

As for other USF international students, Kumako said it is up to them to get involved.

“People are shy because of the language barrier,” Kumako said. “Be active in an organization and learn more about the American culture.”